Are you ready?

Are you ready

It’s cool outside with a somewhat eerie whistling wind. Gas stations have their prices zeroed out signifying no more fuel. Store shelves are emptier than the church parking lot at midnight. It’s pandemonium during the day, then a silence descends at night.

Everything echoes: “The storm is coming.”

*     *     *

The United States is in chaos from natural disasters.

The Pacific northwest is literally going up in flames.

Houston is buried underwater from Harvey.

Idaho is being jarred by earthquake after earthquake.

Irma is tearing up the Caribbean and barreling towards Florida as I write this.

Such devastation, and such a paradox that the water the West desperately needs is the very commodity drowning the East.

Over and over, the cry has been repeated in my state this week: Are you ready? GET READY! Be overprepared rather than underprepared!

*     *     *

You never expect it to be you living in a disaster zone. But when things like the events of the past weeks pile up…and there is a storm reported to be the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history…eventually you start thinking about what could very soon become your reality.

Even if only for a moment, some part of you wonders if this time next week, your life will be completely different. If maybe soon is the last time you’ll see someone. If perhaps next Wednesday it will be your church that is flooded, like the ones in Houston that members from your church just went to help. You wonder if the palm trees lining the roadway will soon be blocking it, or if the beautiful big trees on your college campus will be torn apart and leafless when you return.

And when your Bible reading plan brings you to the ending chapters of Matthew, specifically chapter 24, describing the last days…you wonder if Jesus’ return is much closer than you would’ve imagined even a month ago.

As I’ve been writing about here, God has really been driving home the reality of eternity for me this year. And here was my thought as I read His Word and contemplated the chaos across my nation: Am I ready for eternity? Am I ready for the day that will be so unexpected–the day when Christ will come like a thief in the night?

Something one of my classmates in my public speaking class said today hit me. In the opening of his speech, he asked, “How many of you are kinda scared about the upcoming hurricane?” Many of us raised our hands. The next question he asked was like flipping a switch. “But are you really scared of the hurricane, or is it more that you’re scared of the uncertainty of it?” Every single person in that room agreed that it was the uncertainty that was most frightening. Because quite frankly, despite all the talented folks at NOAA, and despite all the technology we have to predict where this storm is going and what it’ll do, we don’t really know for sure. We can’t know for sure.

How do you prepare for something when you don’t know the details of how or when it’s going to happen?

You follow the instructions given. You follow the wisdom of those who have gone before you. And you prepare for all possible scenarios, rather than trying to bet on one “most likely case.”

In short, you don’t try to figure it out. You go off of the information you are given. The good news is, God has given us all we need to prepare. It’s up to us to apply His Word and do the preparing. But more than just preparing one time, we need to be prepared at all times. Hurricane kits in Florida need updating and refilling at least once a year. Our lives need spiritual checkups, too.

And so as I am asking myself today, I also ask you: Are you ready? Not just for what life here on earth is about to be like, but for eternity. Because we do not know the day that we will suddenly be thrust into eternity.

If you’re not ready, won’t you make time to change that? To ask God to help you see what needs to change in your life, and for the power to help you change it?

At the edge of eternity

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This past week in the Netherlands I was a guest member of the teen Bible camp run by the missionaries. It was a mentally and physically tiring week, but it was so worth it to get to be with these incredible teens and staff members.

Thursday night we ended with a campfire song and testimony service. It was a beautiful time of reflection together, and was also a sobering time as everyone considered the situations they would be walking back into the next day. But for one night more, these teens were surrounded by people who loved and supported them and encouraged them to walk closer with God. For one night more they were challenged to make their short lives here on earth count.

Friday morning after one last breakfast, everyone gathered together for the final quiet time. We finished Romans 13:

“…Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11-12)

Together we sang “Er is een dag” (there is a day) with hearts simultaneously rejoicing and longing for that day to come, when we will step into the other side of eternity and see His face. A day when there will be no more difficulties, no more loneliness, no more tears, no more pain. A day when we will be surrounded by the children of God worshiping Him together.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)

Soon we will see Him
And forever be like Him
And know Jesus as He is, amen!
No more tears, no more pain
Because we will live with Him
In His nearness, forever.
Amen, amen!

(translation is mine, so forgive any errors and approximations)

It was a beautiful week. It was not always what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t easy. Long days with constant Dutch tended to fry my brain as well as leave me physically tired. Sometimes Dutch would be a breeze, and other times I could barely put together a sentence, or someone would have to repeat a simple sentence three times before I could understand. It wasn’t immediately easy to interact with the teens or join their conversations–I had to go out of my way to start them. And understanding the instructions for the games was always a struggle. But what an outstanding week. I had the incredible opportunity to love these teens and staff and be a part of their lives for 7 special days, as well as to learn and grow, myself.

Thursday night as I was up late laughing with the teens and failing miserably at a card game for the tenth or so time, yet somehow managing Dutch quite well for 1 a.m., I realized that this was a place I felt like I belonged. They made me feel like I belonged. And I can’t even tell you how many people asked if I would come back next year or if I would move there. As I sat on the floor outside my cabin’s room processing the week I wrote these words…

I found my gal. I knew it was her when I first talked to her one-on-one earlier this week and she told me she was not so good with English. I knew she was the one I’d been praying for, the one I’d been expecting before this week even began.

And I held her in a hug tonight after the campfire service while tears slid down her face and she forced out barely intelligible words in Dutch. And when she was finished speaking, I was able to tell her in her own language, “You know what? I was learning Dutch before I even knew I would come here. And I stuck with it, even though almost everyone thought it was crazy. People told me ‘everyone there speaks English and no one anywhere else speaks Dutch, so learning that language is useless.’ And that made me a bit frustrated. You know what I told them? I said that if there was only one person who didn’t in fact speak English, it would be worth it to learn Dutch. I hadn’t met that person yet. I didn’t know if I would or not. But something made me keep learning anyway. And now I’m here. Now I’m here and maybe you were that person God had me learn Dutch for all along. Just so I could come all the way from Florida and speak in Dutch with you here and tell you how much Jesus loves you no matter what.”

“Heel mooi,” she breathed. “Voor mij? Echt?”

Yes, very beautiful.

This crazy kind of love, that God would choose to send His own Son for us. And that he would have a Florida girl learn a “small, unimportant” language for three years before sending her to a small camp in a small country to speak with a small girl.

It’s so…not huge and yet unbelievably wonderful at the same time. It wasn’t a dramatic conversion story. Just a girl who needed a hug and some comfort, and she wanted to hear it from me.

This is missions, I think. I think of Katie Davis in Africa. You can’t change the world for everyone, and in fact, not even for one person. God does that. But you can be there. And you can love them. And in “foreign missions”? You can learn to love their country, their language, their ways–you can learn to eat without using a napkin, and eat all kinds of stuff on bread. You can learn to speak your mind in a very frank and honest way. You can learn to be one of them. And you can love them. I think that is my greatest takeaway from this week–LOVE THEM with all that you have and are, in the best way you can, and in whatever opportunities God gives you. I can see that Daniel loves them so, so much. I’ve watched as he speaks and his heart breaks over them. I’ve listened as he prays and asks God to open their eyes and their hearts. And he enjoys being with them. He is there for them. And he speaks truth to them.

And this is THE mission.

How beautiful indeed. How very worth it all. Worth every speck and drop of life I have to give. Wherever I am. Whenever I am there. For the King who holds the whole world and yet also holds my redeemed heart. 


 

This is what it is like to catch a realization of eternity:

The long long long rope of which you can see only one end. A bit of tape on that visible end that represents life on earth. So much contained in eternity, and compared to that, life here is so…short.

This is what it is like to see a glimpse of eternity:

“Small” moments that are utterly life-changing. Moments you wish would go on forever in their simple existence. Singing softly around a campfire, grateful words spoken, tears dribbling on the dusty ground. Tissues passed around. Togetherness. Moments of silence. Love that is so real, so tangible, you feel you could reach out and grab hold of it.

This is what it is like to stand at the edge of eternity:

To realize that Jesus is coming and He is coming soon. To read with awe and wonder about the moment when He will take us up to be with Him, and to close your eyes to better envision the streets of gold and gates of gems. But most of all to savor the thought of one day seeing His face.

This is what it is like to live in the hope of eternity:

Knowing there will be a day…a day when the end of life as we know it shall come, and all the sorrow and the pain and devastation and striving of this life shall come to a close. To sing with joy and longing about the day we will see Him and know Him the way we were always meant to know Him. To rejoice in the parting, knowing we will see each other again in heaven, if nowhere else on this earth.

We walk. With certainty of knowing the Eternal One is with us every moment.

We sing. With the joy of this eternal hope.

We stand. With eyes gazing upward, fixed on the edge of eternity.

More real to me

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One of the most pressing questions we often have about things in life is Is it real? When we are scared, we want to know if the threat is real. When we are presented with a new idea or a crazy sounding story, we demand to see the evidence before we will believe it is real. When we are awed, we cry in wonder, “Is it real? How can this be?”

When we first decide to put our hope and trust in God for our salvation, we are reckoning on the fact that it is real. We have heard the good news, asked “how can this be” and probably requested some reasoning or evidence for this incredible truth. At the moment we choose to take His offer of life and give Him ourselves, we must trust with every fiber of our being that He is real and so is the salvation He offers. And so, every true Christian, at the very least at this one point in his life, has seen and been convinced that what he cannot see is nevertheless very much reality.

And yet, the plague of forgetfulness reaches us all. We are so used to having our senses assaulted with the reality of this physical world that the absence of such a clear picture of the spiritual world leaves us blind to it. And so, “for millions of Christians, nevertheless, God is no more real than He is to the non-Christian. They go through life trying to love an ideal and be loyal to a mere principle” (this and all quotes from A.W. Tozer).

Reality is “that which has existence apart from any idea any mind may have of it.” It is something that exists, and is going to exist in such a way no matter what you think of it.

The sincere plain man knows that the world is real. He finds it here when he wakes into consciousness, and he knows that he did not think it into being. It was here waiting for him when he came, and he knows that when he prepares to leave this earthly scene it will be here still to bid him good-bye as he departs. By the deep wisdom of life he is wiser than a thousand men who doubt. He stands upon the earth and feels the wind and rain in his face and knows that they are real. He sees the sun by day and the stars by night. He sees the hot lightning play out of the dark thundercloud. He hears the sounds of nature and the cries of human joy and pain. These he knows are real. He lies down on the cool earth at night and has no fear that it will prove illusory or fail him while he sleeps. In the morning the firm ground will be under him, the blue sky above him and the rocks and trees around him as when he closed his eyes the night before. So he lives and rejoices in a world of reality. — A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Clearly, the earth is real, but though we cannot see Him, God is also real. He exists whether we realize it or not. We know this earth is real because we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell it. But God, and the spiritual world…we cannot use our physical senses to assure ourselves of its reality. This is why we must have faith (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is not our way of imagining the spiritual world, or hoping that it is real. It is the trust we must exercise to live knowing it is real. “Imagination projects unreal images out of the mind and seeks to attach reality to them. Faith creates nothing; it simply reckons upon that which is already there.”

And so, if we know that God is real, and, in fact, far more permanently real than that which surrounds us on earth, this calls for a seismic shift in our focus.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:18

Now, God didn’t create this world to be ignored. We aren’t to go to the extreme of staying inside meditating all the time. The world is where we carry out our lives and how we learn to walk out our faith. But we shouldn’t be living as if this world is all there is. As if this was the goal and end of the story.

If we really, truly understood the reality of what is unseen and how it impacts our lives, wouldn’t we live differently? Wouldn’t we be quicker to let petty squabbles go? Wouldn’t we be more careful not to get caught up in the stress of our to-do lists of things that aren’t going to matter in a few weeks or months? Wouldn’t we choose to spend more of our time pouring into people with eternal souls, and less of it on mindless entertainment?

But more than just how we spend our time, wouldn’t we see God differently? Wouldn’t we be more in awe of Him? Wouldn’t we seek Him as best as we could? Wouldn’t we recognize the war being waged all around us and join the battle with our prayers?

Make heaven more real to me.png

I think a crucial thing Tozer points out in this chapter of his book is that this “other world” is not in the future. We may not be living in heaven yet, but the reality of it is here and now. And when we do not have the spiritual eyes to see or ears to hear the unseen world around us, we must ask God to give us the faith to know.

I’m in the Netherlands this month, at long last. And I’ve been praying that God will show Himself more and more real to me. This past Wednesday night, at prayer meeting with a few members of the church here, I prayed in Dutch for the first time. My sentences were simple and my voice hesitating, and sometimes I couldn’t find the word I needed so I had to pause. But it left me with a sense of wonder, that I, an American girl thousands of miles from home, could be sitting here on that Wednesday evening praying in another language with God’s people in this corner of the world. And He could understand me just the same. And He was with me just the same.

In that moment, heaven was indeed more real to me than any earthly thing surrounding me. I pray that as I continue to seek God and walk in faith, my “heavenly vision” will sharpen and I will see Him before me each step of the way.

When you cannot see

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“Trust the God you cannot see to faithfully accomplish what only He can see.” — Andy Gleiser

Sometimes, this life just doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?

When we’re in the middle of the muck, we can’t see anything except all the mire that surrounds us. We have no perspective save that which looks out at the chaos or within at the confusion. So what do we do? We cry out to God and demand to know why He’s failed us, leaving us to wallow in this mud pit. Can you believe our audacity? Marvel at it with me for a moment. We, the finite beings, because we cannot see, assume God has left us.

***

My silence on this blog for the past nearly six weeks has not been for want of noteworthy things going on. There were numerous times I considered things at hand and contemplated trying to write them into a post. Some of what prevented it was general busyness, but some of it was lack of words.

It has been a difficult couple of months, and a lot of the situations are laden with emotional turmoil and are otherwise not conducive to the nature of this blog. I am still in the thick of some of it, and still processing all that has happened. But as I’ve wrestled with these situations in my life affecting so many more than just me, God is working. God is there, and He is faithful.

***

You know, sometimes you just don’t feel like God is there. Or if He’s there, that He’s doing anything at this present moment. Sometimes you are so frustrated with yourself for the hundredth time today, and you’re just tired of fighting. You don’t feel like it’s doing any good. You get discouraged, and you just want to lay down your sword and shield and go with the flow for a while.

Sometimes, that kind of surrender can be a very good thing, when it’s God you’ve been fighting. That kind of surrender can be letting go of your death-grip on your plans and your desires, and letting Him take the throne in your heart again.

But sometimes, that kind of surrender is plain-old giving up, steeped in the bitter taste of discouragement. You’ve said yes to God at last, and now it’s time for some life change to happen. But it’s not instantaneous. And it’s not easy. It’s war. Spiritual battles are no less exhausting than physical ones. And as a matter of fact, they can be combined with physical ones sometimes, making for an even more grueling slog!

I’ve been there. I am there. I am in the place where so much in my life is changing at once, inside and out. Things are changing around me and within me and between me and others. And it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been what I would’ve chosen. Right now it feels like there’s an angry gray mountain of clouds billowing over the choppy sea and swirling closer and closer to me with every moment, the wind bringing them forward also whipping around me, threatening to push me off my course. Right now uncertainty makes my step hesitate, and fear presents blockages in the path ahead. My sword arm is battle weary, and my heart, body, and mind are tired. I’ve finally reached the peaks of accomplishment I had worked so hard for–high school graduation has finally happened, and it’s a mere 30 more days until I leave for the trip I had hardly dared to dream for and then worked so hard to prepare for. And yet…it doesn’t satisfy. When the accomplishments are complete, and there is no longer something material to work towards, and I am left drifting listless…what then?

Perhaps it is in these moments that people finally grasp the realization of what He has been speaking all along–He is the only one who satisfies. When all else is uncertain, He is certain. When all else is in disarray, He is the one who is orderly and unchanging. When everything is said and done, He patiently waits as the one who has been there the whole time. He has just been waiting for me to come home, ever so much like Peter from the time Jesus walked on the earth. He has been waiting for me to see that He is the only one who will ever be worth living for…that He is the only one who can change my life. He is the only one who can give me purpose and direction. He is the only one who can give me strength to fight these battles through to the completion.

***

The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the Church is famishing for want of His Presence. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Why is it that we who have found the truth are often those who seem so starved of it? Famished, and dying of thirst while surrounded by the Living Water.

Why is it that I, who have grown up surrounded by the truth of the Living Water, still seem to lack enough of its power in my life?

Why do some persons ‘find’ God in a way that others do not? Why does God manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience? Of course the will of God is the same for all. He has no favorites within His household. All He has ever done for any of His children He will do for all of His children. The difference lies not with God but with us. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

The difference lies with us. It has always been our choice, from the beginning of creation. Are we going to come to Him at all? And once we have done so, are we going to continue to seek Him? Are we going to come closer?

It won’t be easy. It won’t be painless, to break our fallen hearts of their selfish desires and loves. But He is gentle. He is love. And He is worth it.

Do we really believe that?

Do I really believe that?

i want to say it’s done. to fling aside these grave trappings and run into the sweet air, gasping and dancing. or maybe it’s more of throwing aside things i thought would satisfy. i want to give up the truths buried deep within, but how can i? you remind me of your faithfulness. but i don’t hear your voice. it doesn’t matter, though. it doesn’t matter. because emotion does not dictate faith. i don’t have to feel to know. and i know. i know and i will stay. (do you really know? you’re just tricking yourself into knowing, into believing the truth.) i know. – Melody

I know. 

When I cannot see, I don’t need to panic. I have no cause for fear. He cradles me in His hands. I can trust Him with every fiber of my being because He made it, after all. And when I find myself restless and unsatisfied…may I be reminded of who and what I was created for. I was created to know the heart of very God.

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Love that overcomes

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Does it ever occur to you that the foundation of the story of the world is love?

Love was carried on the breath of God as He spoke the world into being. He formed each aspect of it with tender care.

Love was perfect bliss in the garden of Eden, as God walked with man. The innocence of that communion at the beginning.

Love was God’s mercy as He spared Adam and Eve from immediate death, and clothed them before sending them on their way.

Love was God’s promise to Abraham, that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars scattered across the wide swath of Middle Eastern sky. Love was His special way of fulfilling that promise through the birth of Issac long past any reasonable hope. Because He specializes in unreasonable, crazy, extravagantly designed love.

Love was God’s rainbow, the promise of a new life He set in the sky after the great flood of destruction covered the earth.

Love was God’s deliverance of Israel from oppression in Egypt, dramatically displayed through the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea that held the people back from freedom.

Love was God’s patience as the people He had just delivered complained and grumbled again and again in the desert, and rebelled against Him even in the Promised Land. Love was His persistence in drawing them back to Himself through the prophets.

Love was even in the 400 year silence, as generations lived and died, wondering what next?

Love was in asking a young girl to participate in the impossible–in the incredible. To carry a child not conceived of human seed. To bring into the world the very God-man in the flesh.

Love was Jesus forsaking the glory of heaven and allowing Himself to be wrapped in the humblest form known to the universe–the fragile, wrinkled skin of a baby.

Love was God allowing His only Son to grow up in a home devoid of material comforts. Allowing Him to suffer the sharp words of those who hated Him. Allowing Him to bear every temptation known to man. Allowing Him to feel the bitter betrayal of a friend.

Love was exemplified for all eternity in the agony and injustice of the cross that Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to…for us.

Love broke through all the evil and hate and darkness in the world at that moment that was the climax of all of history. Love overcame sin and death.

Love is God walking with us today. Being with us in every moment, in ease and in pain, in joy and in sorrow, in laughter and mourning.

Love’s power is in selflessness. 

Did you ever realize that?

Love that is selfish is not love at all (1 Corinthians 13:5, “love is not self-seeking”).

The power of love is in laying down your life.

Love is choosing to forgive those who hurt you. Choosing to forgive those people whose words cut into your heart. Love is choosing to be patient with those who frustrate you day in and day out. Love is listening–to those you agree with and those you do not. Love is sharing your home, your heart, your things, your money, your time. Love is being there. Love is crying with the one who is hurting and laughing with the one who is rejoicing.

Love is choosing to live each day not in pursuit of your own will, your own choices, and your own comfort, but in pursuit of giving life to others. Love is laying down your own life through small and big choices so that others might find the hope of Christ. Love is recognizing that because God so loved the world, because God so loved youyou can give that love to everyone around you (1 John 4:8).

This is how love overcomes.

This is how love wins, every single time:

Climbing high upon a tree where someone else should die.

This is how love heals the deepest part of you:

Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds.

“How Love Wins” from The Story

Love that overcomes isn’t painless or easy or pretty. But though it is painful, it is simple, and it is beautiful. Love that overcomes is the love with which God saved us, and it is the love He fills us with each day to walk in new life. The foundation of life is love. And the rest of the story is what we choose to do with it.

Dear friend, do you know the love that overcomes? Has your life been washed to its very core by the love that is the foundation of the world? If not, I pray you’ll accept it, and let the hurt you’ve been carrying fall away. If so, let us extend that love to others. May we let it transform every part of us anew each day, as it is meant to. May we live our lives as vessels of that love that overcomes the world.


1 John 1:29 “…Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Joy of every longing heart

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Have you noticed how our hearts long for things?

We long for–or crave–certain kinds of food, certain possessions, and so on…but above all, we long for things intangible.

We long for peace. Hope. Satisfaction. Joy. Love.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

From the dawn of humanity, we have longed. Our story is one of yearning for something beyond ourselves.

cs-lewis-quote-desire
(via)

But our sin kept us from being able to experience this hope and peace and fulfillment. We were destined to spend our lives hurting and groaning with unrest. The story of the world would’ve been an unimaginable tragedy.

But God.

God heard our groanings. He felt the relentless pull of our yearning. His love was so great for us that He orchestrated a grand plan of redemption.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

He sent His Son to be our deliverer. Our perfect substitute.

He sent Jesus to die. A baby born to die, He has been called, and rightly so. Sometimes I wonder if and how He knew about that while growing up. How did He, fully human, bear the weight of knowing what His future held? 

The night He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane–He trembled at it all. Yet He proceeded onward to the cross of Calvary, bearing in heart and mind you and me.

I started a tradition last year of writing every single one of my coworkers a Christmas card, designed to share the message of hope and also a personal word of encouragement. The beautiful cards I picked this year contain this message:

His destiny was the cross…

His purpose was love…

His reason was you.

This, my friends, is the message of Christmas. It is not a cute manger scene. It’s not a sugar-sweet fairytale. It’s the sobering beginning of the end. But it’s not dark. Its seriousness does not at all take away from the joy and hope of that night in Bethlehem when the Savior of mankind entered the world as a tiny baby, wrapped in human flesh.

He came to set us free–free from our fears and sins. Free from our shame and guilt. Free from the darkness that surrounds us and would devour us whole.

He came to give us rest. To be our strength, our comfort in troubling times.

He came to be the hope of a world gone without hope for far too long.

He came to deliver us, and to reign in us forever. To be the life-changing leader of our existence.

And in His coming, he became the joy of every longing heart. This, this is the peace He brings to earth. Not the peace of a world at rest, devoid of harm. No, that peace is still to come. But He brought rest to our ever-yearning hearts. He brought us satisfaction and hope in Him. This is the beauty of Christmas. And it’s something I find myself awed over anew each year.

Merry Christmas! May your Christmas this year be a celebration of the Savior who brought us peace.

Be content

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Contentment.

It’s something I think we would all agree is lacking in the world today, especially in first-world countries, who, ironically, have so much.

Often, we equate being content with happiness. We chase happiness hoping to find contentment. How do I know we aren’t just looking for happiness, as everyone says? Because happiness is fleeting. And we know that. We experience moments of happiness, but we aren’t satisfied. We’re looking for a happiness that stays with us. We’re looking for satisfaction in the form of contentment.

Even if we are content in respect to our basic needs and material wants, we often struggle to be content with our current situation. We’re constantly wishing things would move a little faster, or smoother–wishing they would just go the way we want. And when they don’t…we are discontent.

What exactly is contentment? The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it as “internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.” Contentment is an attitude, a state of the heart. It involves being satisfied–not demanding changes in external circumstances, but rather trusting and accepting God’s directing in your life.

Paul writes about contentment in Philippians, from his position chained 18 inches away from a guard, under house arrest. Wow. Talk about a guy who knew the true meaning of contentment. Paul understood that even though his external circumstances were less than thrilling, God had a plan and a purpose for them. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul explains how his chains have actually served to further the gospel: the guards he has been chained to day and night have witnessed his contentment and peace and hope and gentleness. The gospel has spread throughout the palace as a result. Even the other Christians in churches Paul ministered to have become emboldened to speak the gospel.

Later on in his letter, Paul explains that he had learned to be content. This is an important concept to note. We aren’t born content, and we don’t suddenly become content later on in our lives. We don’t reach some point of attainment. It’s something you have to learn. And how do you learn to be content? Through life’s trials and hardships. In the ups and downs. In the times you have, and the times you have not (Philippians 4:10). You won’t “get it right” every time. It takes practice to develop an attitude and heart of contentment.

But what about happiness? Remember at the beginning when I said we chase happiness to find contentment? Well, you might ask, how could Paul be happy in these circumstances, even if he knew they were having some positive results? Here’s the thing: Contentment isn’t actually about being happy with your circumstances. It’s about being focused on the God who doesn’t change. 

My youth pastor gave a wonderful illustration of this. In a fun house he visited, one of the illusion rooms was set up to look like the entire room was doing barrel rolls, with only a small walkway through. If you let yourself look at the walls, you were constantly feeling the urge to duck and turn and stumble (and possibly lose your lunch). But the key to getting out was to fix your eyes on the light of the doorway, and walk straight ahead.

Friend, when all the world is spinning about you, fix your eyes on the God who doesn’t change. James 1:17 refers to God as the Father of lights, “with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.” He is the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars…but He does not change as they do. He is the Author of the seasons…but He does not shift as they do.

Can I ask you something? Are you content with the plans God has for you? Not just His plans for the future, but your future. Not just His plans for your future, but for your present. Are you content with where He has you right now–with the circumstances He has you in today? Are you content with the things He is teaching you?

To be honest with you, lately I have not been content with my todays. I’ve gotten caught up in stress and frustration, and have asked God why it’s so hard for me to stay focused and make it through school and life in general. I’ve been discontent with the interruptions to my day and the facets of my life that prevent me from making things go the way I prefer. Sometimes, I even look at others’ lives and wish this aspect or that aspect of my life was more like theirs. I tend to wish my life was easier.

But God didn’t call me to live an easy life. He’s not interested in making my life smooth and painless. He’s interested in making me like Jesus.

We often quote Romans 8:28…but we forget verse 29.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:28-29

What was God’s predestined plan for us? What was the purpose for which we were called? That we “be conformed to the image of his Son.” The circumstances in our lives are there to teach us to be content. 

Instead of fighting my circumstances the whole way, and complaining about them to anyone who will listen, I need to recognize that this is God’s plan for me. I must believe that He is using this for my good. And trusting Him allows me to be content, no matter what the circumstances may be.

I want to point out one last thing. Philippians 4:13 is another verse we often quote out of context. You know the one. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The context is contentment. It is given as Paul’s secret of being content.

We can’t do this on our own. But the good news is, God never asked us to.

Trust Him. Really trust His plan. And you will find yourself able to be content, no matter the situations you find yourself in.


Partially inspired by my youth pastor’s incredible message on contentment, which you can listen to here.

Equipped for action (2 Timothy study week 3)

equipped-for-action

Welcome back to the blog Bible study! If you need to catch up, here is the introduction post and here’s chapter 2 from last week.

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. The word of God goes forth through teaching, and will not be bound.
  2. Truth dynamically impacts the Christian’s life by calling him to pursue righteousness.
  3. Zealously study the truth and handle it with grace, avoiding foolish arguments.

Today we’ll be studying 2 Timothy 3. Take a moment right now to read it before you continue.

Here are the main points I observed in today’s chapter.

1. Perilous times and ungodly individuals

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” So begins Paul’s warning to Timothy in this third chapter. He’s not only talking about the future, but also the present. In verses 2 through 5, Paul describes the kind of people who will infiltrate the church. Here’s a rundown.

  • Lovers of their own selves (selfish)
  • Covetous
  • Boasters
  • Proud
  • Blasphemers
  • Disobedient to parents
  • Unthankful
  • Unholy
  • Without natural affection (not caring about others)
  • Trucebreakers (breaking promises and not honoring agreements)
  • False accusers (slanderers)
  • Incontinent (without self control)
  • Fierce (lovers of violence)
  • Despisers of those that are good
  • Traitors
  • Heady (headstrong and rash)
  • Highminded (arrogant)
  • Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God
  • Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof

Yikes. What a list. Let’s take a step back and look at these for a minute. Some of the characteristics on this list are a little surprising. Disobedient to parents? Unthankful? We don’t usually think of these are grievous sins. And yet, here they are listed among traitors and despisers of those that are good. And take a look at that last one–“having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” That means going through the motions of religion without allowing the truth to change your heart. Following that last characteristic, Paul instructs, “from such turn away.”

These aren’t people from the world Paul is talking about. He’s referring to people in the church, people who call themselves believers. People who know all the right answers and put on a good Christian smile, but don’t allow the truth to change their lives.

“From such turn away.” In a way, these people are more dangerous than those outside the church’s circle. Why? Because they look like believers. They seem trustworthy and admirable. And they lure true believers away from the truth (see verse 6).

I want to point out one more chilling characteristic, described in verse 7. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Throughout the book of 2 Timothy (and, indeed, many of Paul’s letters), the phrase “knowledge of the truth” refers to the believing and accepting the truth of salvation. What Paul is saying here is there are people who are constantly learning about the world, and yet never come to recognize the truth of His salvation. It seems to perfectly describe the plight of scholars, scientists, and students who are always learning, but do not accept God’s truth.

As he closes out this section, Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres, the names given to two Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. Paul compares false teachers to the magicians, and says they are “reprobate concerning the faith” (v.8). However, he offers a word of consolation: “…Their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs [Jannes and Jambres’] also was” (v.9).

Upon examining your own heart, do you see any of the characteristics listed here? Are you careful not to be lead away by anyone and everyone who claims to be a follower of God? Who do you know that always seems to be learning, yet not arriving at a knowledge of the most important truth of all?

2. Continue in what you have learned

After that sober description of people to beware of, Paul begins to paint a dynamic contrast. “But thou”–he begins verse 10. He reminds Timothy of how he has “fully known” Paul’s doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity (love), and patience. All things that should be an example to Timothy. But then he takes a bit of a turn, and mentions how Timothy also fully knows the persecutions and afflictions Paul has suffered. Continuing a theme from chapter 1, Paul states that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (v.12). However, he reminds Timothy that the Lord delivered him out of them all.

In verses 13 and 14, Paul portrays one more contrast: evil men will grow worse and worse; deceiving and being deceived (v.13). But Timothy he urges to continue in what he has learned and has been what? Has been assured of. This assurance is the same used back in chapter 1 verse 12, where Paul declares “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able…”

Paul is reiterating to Timothy that these aren’t just things someone has taught him, and he believes because “why not.” The gospel is something he is assured of, something he has examined the evidence for and knows to be true.

There are always going to be people who say they’re Christians but don’t act like it. The world is going to grow worse and worse. But you. But us. We will continue in what we have learned, what we know to be true. We will continue to be faithful. And that’s what matters.

Are you prepared to suffer persecution? Are you continuing in what you have learned and been assured of?

3. God’s inspired word equips us

Paul reminds Timothy that he has known the scriptures from the time he was a child, and that these scriptures are able to make a person “wise unto salvation” through faith in Christ Jesus (v.15). There’s that “knowledge of the truth,” again. Clearly, we receive the knowledge of the truth we need through the scripture.

Paul continues to defend the scriptures, saying that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. This is a very good place to point someone who claims that only parts of the Bible are true. Not only does Paul affirm the truth of the scriptures here, he also explains the purpose of them. Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and for what purpose?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Those words “thoroughly furnished” come from the Greek word for accomplished, completed. Obviously, we are not going to become perfect in the sense of without sin here on earth, but God’s word has the power to grow us and complete us–to prepare us and equip us for life in this world. 

Are you studying the scriptures God has given you? Are you not just reading the words, but letting their power work in your life? Are you using the Bible like the tool it is?

Let’s recap:

  1. We’re living in dangerous times, and ungodly individuals infiltrate the church. How’s your character looking? What kind of protections do you have in place so that you aren’t carried away by something that “sounds good”?
  2. After detailing the characteristics of those who are false believers, Paul encourages Timothy to continue in the way he has been walking, remembering what he has learned and been assured of. How can you encourage others to keep following God, even when persecution strikes?
  3. Paul clearly states that all of the scriptures are God’s inspired word, and explains how it can be used. Do you treasure God’s word? How has God’s word equipped you to take action?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 3 in the comments below! See you next week as we wrap up this study!

Truth’s dynamic impact (2 Timothy study week 2)

truths-dynamic-impact

Welcome back to the blog Bible study! If you missed last week’s introduction, you can catch up here.

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. Paul praises Timothy for his sincere, wholehearted faith.
  2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has equipped us with, so that we need not be ashamed.
  3. Paul emphasizes the crucial importance of having sound doctrine.

Today we’ll be going through 2 Timothy 2. Take a moment to read it before you continue.

Here are the main themes I gathered from this chapter.

1. The word of God goes forth through teaching

After continuing to encourage Timothy in the call to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v.1), Paul instructs Timothy to commit the teachings of the faith to “faithful men,” so they could in turn teach others (v.2). How did you learn about God? Someone had to teach you, obviously. But did you know that you don’t have to wait to be an adult or a Bible college graduate to teach others about God? You can start teaching what you’ve learned to others right now. Start a conversation about what you’ve been learning from God’s word recently with a friend or two. Host a Bible study of your own. Be a student of God’s word so you can answer questions others have (more on that later).

I also want to point out verse 9, where Paul makes a powerful statement. He says that although he is in bonds, “the word of God is not bound.” Despite the great leader of the Christian faith spending his days locked up, the word of God continues to go forth. God will accomplish His purposes, no matter what kind of circumstances seem to be in the way.

2. How the truth impacts the Christian’s life

Paul uses some vivid illustrations to portray the need for holiness in the Christian’s life. In verses 3 and 4, he describes a soldier enduring hardness and not letting himself get caught up in trivialities of life. As the solider has a single-minded focus, Paul implies, so we should keep our focus on God and push away distractions that don’t have eternal value.

In verse 5, Paul talks about an athlete who must follow the rules in order to claim his prize. We cannot live as we wish and still expect God to be pleased at the end of the day. God takes holiness seriously.

In verse 6, Paul concludes by mentioning a farmer who receives the fruits (literally) of his labor. Paul reminds Timothy that living God’s way brings treasures in heaven.

Later on in the chapter, verses 20-22 offer another illustration, this time of a house containing many vessels. If you get rid of the evil, dishonoring vessels, you will be “a vessel of honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (v.21). Verse 22 continues this theme, as Paul instructs Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” and instead pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace—but not alone! Paul emphasizes that Timothy should take on this quest “with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

How does the truth of God’s word impact your life in visible, practical ways? Who are you joining with to pursue righteousness?

3. How to properly handle the truth

(or, a primer in Christian debate and apologetics)

This theme is one of my favorites in this letter. If you’ve hung around my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed by now that apologetics and reasoning are topics I’m particularly interested in. Well, in this chapter, Paul has several things to say about arguments, debate, and defense of the truth.

First, let’s cover his warnings. Verses 14, 16, and 23 all contain warnings about arguments. Paul tells Timothy to make sure his church members “strive not about words to no profit” (v.14), “shun profane and vain babblings” (v.16), and avoid “foolish and unlearned questions” (v.23). Clearly, some people were having trouble recognizing when to stop arguing! But let’s take a closer look at why Paul gives these warnings. The reason he gives for shunning vain babblings is that “they will increase unto more ungodliness,” and the reason to avoid foolish and unlearned questions is because they cause strife and division—not good things to have, especially in a church.

If we’d only read these verses, I think we’d be pretty well scared off from having any kind of verbal conflict. But that’s definitely not what Paul’s goal is here. He’s simply instructing us to avoid unprofitable and divisive squabbles.

Verse 15 tells us how we should handle the truth and the spreading of it.

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

We learn a few things from this verse. First of all, we need to put effort into the truth. The word “study” here does not only means actual studying; more literally it means “be zealous for.” We are not to have a halfhearted commitment to the truth—it’s the truth! It’s the foundation of all we think, believe, and are! Surely that merits our passion.

Secondly, if we study the truth, we will understand it and be able to explain it correctly. And if we explain it correctly, we will not need to be ashamed. In verses 17 and 18, Paul mentions two men who were apparently spreading false teachings. He says “concerning the truth [they] have erred” (v.18), and then mentions the devastating effects of this error: the faith of some has been overthrown.

These verses serve as both an encouragement and a sobering warning of the disastrous consequences of mixing the truth with error.

Lastly, in verses 24 and 25, Paul describes the characteristics of those who would teach the truth:

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.

Did you catch that at the end? We are to share the truth with others who oppose us patiently, with meekness, so that they may acknowledge the truth and repent. Our goal isn’t to “win,” to be right, and to make ourselves look good. It’s to urge people towards repentance, towards restoration with God.

Whew! That’s a lot we covered. To summarize, we must be careful to avoid pointless arguments, we must study the truth passionately, and we must keep a proper heart motive for sharing the truth with others. How are you making studying the truth a priority in your life? Are you being careful to keep your confrontations tempered with patience, gentleness, and meekness?

Let’s recap:

  1. Despite obstacles or opposition, the word of God will continue to go forth through faithful teachers. Who are you teaching about God? What could you do to create or make use of opportunities to share the truth you’ve learned with others?
  2. Truth isn’t just relegated to philosophy—it dramatically impacts our lives. How is your life different after exposure to God’s truth? Who are you partnering with on your journey to righteousness?
  3. There’s a right and a wrong way to handle the truth. Are you careful to avoid useless arguments? Are you constantly studying the truth?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 2 in the comments below!

 

Be not ashamed (2 Timothy study week 1)

Be not ashamed.png

Hey, y’all! Welcome to the first day of my first blog series. I’m borrowing an idea from my friend Amanda Beguerie and hosting a blog Bible study for the next several weeks. The way it works is simple: I’ll be posting my study of the week’s passage on Tuesdays (hopefully) with a list of questions for discussion and further study. Then you do a little digging of your own and answer them in the comments or in your own study post (leave a link in the comments!), and we all learn from God’s Word together! Fun, right?

I’d like to start off with a little introduction of 2 Timothy, the book we’ll be studying. This book is the last published letter Paul wrote before he was executed in Rome, with a generally accepted date of 66 A.D. Unlike most of Paul’s letters, 2 Timothy is written to an individual, in this case, a young pastor—kind of Paul’s protégé in the faith. The letter takes on an exhortative tone, but is unique in that it is incredibly personal. In it we read Paul’s sorrow for those who have forsaken the faith, and his tiredness and readiness to go home to be with God.

Before I begin with lessons from chapter 1, take a moment to read it through. See if you detect Paul’s emotions and focus as he writes to Timothy.

I’d like to highlight three main lessons from 2 Timothy 1:

1. Paul praises Timothy’s unfeigned faith

Even a glance at this passage makes it obvious Paul greatly cares for Timothy. In verse 2, he calls Timothy his “dearly beloved son.” In verse 3, Paul tells Timothy he prays for him “night and day.” And in verse 4, Paul expresses a desire to see his young friend.

In verse 5, Paul goes beyond expressions of love and friendship, and mentions Timothy’s “unfeigned faith.” What does unfeigned mean? It means sincere, genuine, honest, and wholehearted. Paul is saying Timothy isn’t putting on a “good Christian” show—his heart is right.

It’s all too easy to slip into going through the motions, isn’t it? Are you careful to check the motivations in your heart for your actions?

2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has given us to accomplish it

Paul reminds Timothy that God has “saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace” (verse 9). What is our calling? To spread the gospel and bring glory to God. It sounds simple, perhaps even easy, but we know in reality such is not the case.

Paul is writing this letter from a Roman jail cell. It’s near the very end of his life, and he has suffered countless abuses for the sake of the gospel. He knows it’s not easy to take a stand and speak up. That’s why he encourages Timothy that God has equipped us for the trials we will face by sending the Holy Spirit. I love verse 7:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

He continues, saying, because of this Spirit God has given us, we are not to be ashamed of “the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner” but instead be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel. The Greek phrase for “be a partaker of the afflictions” means to suffer hardship as one with. It carries the idea of joining in unity with others who are also partakers. Paul is reminding Timothy, “You’re not in this alone.”

In verse 12, after beautifully describing the gospel, Paul powerfully states why he is not ashamed of it:

For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

I recently learned that the word “believed” here is so much more than just a “blind faith.” It is closely related to the word “persuaded” following it here; it has the meaning of being convinced of the truth of something, of placing confidence in something. It’s not just a hopeful guess. It’s a certainty. What Paul is saying here is that he is absolutely sure he can trust God to keep what he has committed (his soul—see Luke 23:46 and 1 Peter 4:19) until the end of time.

Wow. Talk about a firm foundation. Are you absolutely persuaded that God is trustworthy? If you’re going to fulfill your calling and be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, you’re going to have to have rock-solid certainty.

3. Paul emphasizes the importance of the gospel and sound doctrine

Paul concludes this chapter by urging Timothy to hold fast to “the form of sound words” (verse 13), which is doctrine, and to keep (hold secure, protect) “that good thing which was committed unto thee,” which is the gospel. As previously mentioned, in verses 9 and 10, Paul briefly but powerfully states the gospel, and how it is crucial to our life and calling.

The importance of steadfast faith and consistent preaching of sound doctrine is a theme that will continue to come up later in this letter. Paul really wanted to emphasize to Timothy the critical necessity of standing firm when others fall away, as he briefly notes in verse 15.

How careful are you to keep your doctrine straight and pure? Is it “sound”—would it hold up to being shaken or dragged hither and yon in the storm of competing ideas in the world today? Are you taking care to remember the importance of the gospel for which we sacrifice our lives?

Let’s recap:

  1. Paul praises Timothy for his sincere, wholehearted faith. Is your faith sincere, without hidden motives and masks?
  2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has equipped us with, so that we need not be ashamed. Are you absolutely sure, heart and mind, that God is trustworthy? Are you living unashamed of the gospel?
  3. Paul emphasizes the crucial importance of having sound doctrine. Do you know the doctrines of the faith? Are you careful to keep those central values sound, unshakeable by the world?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 1 in the comments below!